For years, the Rays have constructed their bullpen by finding cheap, seemingly washed-up veteran relievers and turning their careers around. Could Jeremy Accardo be another candidate for that process?
In 2007, Jeremy Accardo was a dominant major league closer. Forced into the Blue Jays’ closer role after B.J. Ryan got injured and Jason Frasor struggled, the 25 year old Accardo gave the Jays everything they could have asked for in the late innings, going 4-4 with a 2.14 ERA and 30 saves in 64 appearances and 67.1 IP. His peripherals were not as good as he posted a 7.6 K/9, a 3.2 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9, amounting to a 3.48 FIP. His groundball rate was 49.2%, but despite his great numbers, Accardo was never truly dominant. But no one would have expected Accardo to trail off as much as he has the last five years as he has managed just a 4.94 ERA, managing just a 5.9 K/9 and a 4.5 BB/9 as he has bounced from the Blue Jays to the Orioles to the Indians, who released him on Thursday. Accardo isn’t young anymore, turning 31 in December, and in 8 major league seasons, he has managed a 2-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio in just two of them, 2006 and 2007. Does Accardo have anything left?
Accardo was an undrafted free agent out of Illinois State University back in 2003, and it’s pretty clear why: he doesn’t throw a single true offspeed pitch. You won’t see Accardo throw a changeup, a curveball, or even a slider. Accardo works with four different fastballs: a four-seamer, a two-seamer, a splitter, and a cutter. His four-seam fastball once reached the mid-90’s but now rarely reaches above 92 MPH. Accardo has always been dependent on his splitter for swings-and-misses, and his splitter is at its best only when it’s set up by his fastball. According to Brooks Baseball, in 2012 Accardo has thrown his cutter, which moves away from right-handed hitters, just 5% of the time, meaning that 95% of the time his pitches moved the same way, away from right-handed batters. Relievers can survive with that, but typically only when their fastball reaches the mid-90’s. Accardo’s current repertoire does not set him up for success.
The Rays have been successful with pitchers like Kyle Farnsworth and Fernando Rodney because both, even when they were struggling, threw hard with an effective secondary pitch as well, with Farnsworth’s being his slider and Rodney’s being his changeup. The Rays have turned Joel Peralta, who works primarily with a low-90’s fastball and a splitter, into an effective reliever, but he also throws a curveball. Accardo doesn’t fit the formula.
If Jeremy Accardo wants to survive as a major league pitcher, he will need to add a breaking pitch like a curveball or a slider or at the very least get back to using his cutter a reasonable portion of the time. Fixing Accardo will require a reinvention of him as a pitcher, not a little tweak. Could the Rays be the team that gives Accardo a chance to do that? If he’s willing to come over on a minor league deal and put all the necessary work in to improve, there’s no reason for them not to. Jeremey Accardo isn’t going to come in and give the Rays another shockingly good late inning option. But maybe he could turn into another cheap middle relief option that the Rays always need to keep them afloat year after year. Accardo could be beyond repair at this point. However, if the Rays see potential in Accardo, they will give him a call.